BWW Interview: Five on Friday with THREE'S A CROWD's Fatima Dike
Theatre legend Fatima Dike styles herself as a playwright, director, teacher and mentor. Hailing from Langa in Cape Town, she has written plays like THE SACRIFICE OF KRELI (which made its bow in 1976, was published two years later and appeared in a new version in 2001), THE FIRST SOUTH AFRICAN (1977) and GLASSHOUSE (1978). These were all originally staged at the Space Theatre, where Dike was the resident playwright at the time. Her more recent plays include SO WHAT'S NEW (1991) and THE RETURN (2008), while her work as a director has included WOZA ALBERT! (2007), NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (2012), ISYSTEM (2013) and INGUBO EMHLOPHE (2015). Her latest directorial work, the staging of Pfarelo Nekamonde's THREE'S A CROWD at the Guga S'Thebe Arts & Culture Centre, is currently on the boards. Dike found time during rehearsals to answer some questions about the production and the vibrant cultural scene in Langa.
David Fick: You are currently directing Pfarelo Nekamonde's new play, THREE'S A CROWD. Like his earlier play, CHOMI, this play deals with black gay issues. What does the play bring to conversations around these themes?
Fatima Dike: I saw Pfarelo's first play when it was part of the Artscape New Writing Programme. Pfarelo's plays are open and very honest and leave nothing out, but they are also human. They show that gay love and straight love is the same. Gay people's love lives go through the same ecstasies and challenges. The only difference is that with gays the couples are the same gender. I am hoping that, especially in our communities, his sincerity will change people's attitudes towards gays and lesbians and come to be more accepting of them.
DF: What has it been like working at the Guga S'Thebe Arts & Culture Centre, where THREE'S A CROWD is being staged?
I have worked at Guga S'thebe Arts & Culture Centre since the year 2000. In 2001 we - myself, Dumile Magodla, Professor Roy Sargeant and Paul Regenass - started an outreach programme, a performing arts project tailored after Prof Mavis Taylor's New Africa Theatre Association. The project ran for two years. In 2003, we had a cultural exchange with the University of Louisville's Black Theatre Project in Kentucky US. This exchange which had brought about ten African American students plus Professor Nefertiti Burton and theatre director Ingrid Askew to Langa resulted in a production called THE MIDDLE PASSAGE: A CLEANSING RITUAL. The play was workshopped and I wrote the script. Dumile and Professor Burton directed. Ingrid facilitated by workshopping with both groups, the students from Louisville and our students from Vusabantu Performing Arts Project. Guga S'thebe has grown both physically and in the number of projects and events taking place in the centre. I feel inspired to use the space, time and the energies in that space further. Soweto has her own theatre, but now Langa has her own theatre too, and we will use that opportunity to its fullest. Langa has great potential. Tourists pour into the Township on a daily basis. There are a number of international students who are studying in Cape Town who are hosted by host families in Langa. Talent abounds, so the potential is boundless.
DF: You've been an active force in theatre for many years, working as a performer, stage manager and theatre-maker. What has been the highlight of your career do far?
FD: I have had many special moments in my career, but right now at this stage of my life and career the highlight is working in the community that I was born in. My career started at the Space Theatre in town. I joined Mavis Taylor's New Africa Theatre Association in Sybrand Park in 1995. I joined Artscape in 2007. So now I am working from Guga S'thebe, and the new theatre there makes it possible for me to bring professional theatre to Langa. I am part of a group called Umbonowethu ("our vision") and am working with wonderful teammates like Dizu Plaaatjies, who is the master of anything indigenous; a wonderful young man by the name of Thulani Nxumalo, who is into visual arts, photography, video and film; and Anele Ngoko, a veteran photographer who was also one of the first people to join Guga S'thebe at its inception. We create platforms for people in the community. I run writers' workshops through my company, Siyasanga Cape Town Theatre Company, with Professor Roy Sargeant. We also have a new playwriting programme which accepts new work from all over South Africa. I run the Black Writers Forum, where I receive and read scripts from black writers. When I see a writer who has the potential to write, I mentor that person for four months until the script has been completed. We have play readings of these works at Guga S'thebe in October. People in the community come to our office looking for advice. We arrange workshops for people who want to act, write, play drums or marimbas, or to learn photography. I am being introduced to my community all over again and am finding and discovering the diversity that is Langa, and it is amazing.
DF: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing South African theatre at present?
FD: This is a very important question and needs to be answered very thoughtfully. There is so much talent in this country that it can make South Arica so rich, but talent needs to be developed. When I look at our education system today, I find it lacking - especially in the townships. It focuses on the academic, yet not all children are gifted that way. Drama is not taught in township schools. Those schools that have drama do so because there is a teacher who loves drama in that school and will take the time to introduce their learners to drama. I know this because I do the English drama set works for Grade 12s every year as part of Theatre in Education. We need to instil the arts in our school curriculum. If you go to the white schools, most schools have drama and a drama teacher. This gives our youth choices. When young people graduate from high school, some want to study drama further. In the 70s we had lots of privately owned performing arts projects all over the place, but over the years since the dawn of democracy, they have disappeared. These projects helped a lot of young people in our communities to access professional theatre when or if their parents can't afford to send them to university. Funding is the main downfall in the arts. We don't only need our government to help us with funding; we also need corporates to help. As long as the youth is sitting idle, they will find other ways to earn a living. As long as graduates do not get employed, all the traffic lights in our country will be overpopulated by beggars or suffer the brain drain we are experiencing right now. Most young people in our communities have opted to take their talents to countries like the Arab Emirates to make a better life for themselves.
DF: In South Africa at this time, we have a huge mix of theatre legends and inspiring new artists. Who are your South African theatre heroes?
I have worked with many respected people in the performing arts, and I, therefore, have had many mentors. If Rob Amato had not walked into the Space Theatre in 1975, maybe I would not have had this beautiful life that I am enjoying in the performing right now. He gave me the research he had done on King Kreli of the AmaGcaleka and challenged me to write a play about this king. He gave me three months. In the three months while I was working on the script, he introduced me to research and took me to the South African Library kicking and screaming because I was sick and tired of institutions, restaurants and so on that always met me at the door with a polite rejection, "Sorry, we do not serve Blacks." He took into the South African library at the Gardens, got me a membership card and showed me how to do research. Then while reading through a book by a famous English writer of the 18th century, I realised that he never called Africans by their tribal names but grouped them all under one word, "kaffir." I walked out of the library and told Rob to put his project "you know where" because I am sick and tired of the insult by this particular English man. He told me to go right back and keep on reading because every other black person that he might find to do this project would tell him the same thing. He brought Rob McLaren from Wits to come and encourage me while I was writing. When the script was done, he brought Barney Simon down from the Market Theatre to direct the play as the second production to play in the main theatre at The Market. We toured the Eastern Cape from August to November with the play, and he paid for everything. I bow to him. Barney became my mentor after that, and we took SO WHAT'S NEW? from The Market Laboratory to the main theatre at The Market in 1991. I thank ubhuti wam bra John Kani because he was the director of the Market then and showed an avid interest in the production. Dr Kani and bhuti Winston Ntshona's talents inspired me in the first production of SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD at The Space Theatre. Julius Mtsaka who directed THE SACRIFICE OF KRELI at The Space in 1976 taught me lessons that I have not forgotten 'til today about working in theatre and working with people in the performing arts. Nomhle Nkonyeni, my BFF, once performed in MEDEA opposite the magnificent Yvonne Bryceland at the Space. I was worried that Nomhle might not meet Yvonne's excellence in acting. Little did I know she was the perfect match for Miss Bryceland, and their performance on that stage set the theatre on fire. Nomhle taught me that you may be black, and you may not have a certificate from the university's drama school, but if you have the passion and the talent, nothing can stop you. I bow to her. Brian Astbury and the Space Theatre played a very big role in nurturing and educating me about theatre. I know there are many others out there who have had an input in my career I thank them too.
THREE'S A CROWD opened last night at the Guga S'Thebe Arts & Culture Centre after a preview on Wednesday and runs until 13 April. Tickets, costing R60.00, can be bought at the door. Performances begin at 19:30, with two matinees at 16:00 on 8 and 13 April. Block bookings may be made via email.